Blondie Okpuzor is the CEO and Founder BathKandy Co, Africa’s leading social enterprise – skincare, bath and body company, focused on environmental sustainability practices. A graduate of Business Management and Sociology from Stony Brook University, New York. Upon her graduation, she worked as a Human Resource Information Systems specialist at Insight Communications (a division of Comcast Cable) in NYC after which, she went on to pursue her MBA in Marketing and Management full time.
With a love for travelling and exploring, she studied at Nanjing University, China and has been to 17 countries. Blondie is an avid reader, music connoisseur, horse lover and travel aficionado.
Please tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Blondie Okpuzor and I am the CEO and founder of BathKandy Co. I love to travel, and I have been to 17 countries. I love exotic foods and will try almost anything once, love to learn about world culture from other countries. Things I’m obsessed with:
Multiple personality disorder
I am horrible at languages lol. I can’t speak anything but English (and even that is questionable lol). I understand Igbo, a tad bit of French. I absolutely love horses, yachts and water
Tell us something about BathKandy e.g why you decided to go into crafting food-inspired soaps instead of pursuing a career in marketing, challenges you faced setting up, what the market prospect looks like for your business, a major breakthrough in your business etc?
A few years ago, I started developing allergies to foods and products I used on my skin and as this was new to me and very uncomfortable, I resolved to finding things that would work for me. This is how BathKandy started, me making things that my skin could tolerate and over time, I realized the beauty of harnessing nature to bring about real and long-term healing. The food inspiration aspect came as a result of me not being able to eat these delicious deserts I used to love due to my food allergies. I simply modelled my soaps in the form of things I can’t eat. Aside from that, in the midst of every great gathering is food. Food brings people together and is always a safe starting point no matter what language or tribe you are from anywhere in the world; food unites people. I wanted my products to be visually appealing at first glance, create a conversation, piece and pique the interest of people who would go on to become ambassadors for the brand.
Some of the challenges we faced were with the government in terms of requirements (NAFDAC), employability of talent and sourcing of raw materials. The future of the brand is looking great as we aim to be the premier beauty gifting company in the world and judging by statistics and research, Nigeria alone poses a significant market.
We are still having lightbulb moments as we celebrate every idea, every breakthrough like it was the first. My first lightbulb moment was when I realized that people would and were willing to pay money for something I made in my kitchen.
Would you say your travelling experience has impacted your business and how?
Absolutely it has. Travelling opens your mind to the possibilities the world has to offer and it also changes your perspective. I get inspiration from travelling. The sights, sounds and pulse of a new city are mentally stimulating and certainly get your creative juices flowing.
Travelling has also helped shape my business in terms of how I structure/model my company. I am inspired by the look, feel placement and texture of other stores abroad and I draw inspiration from them and try to adopt the necessary to my company.
Did you ever know you will own a business one day, looking that you studied business management and sociology at school?
Yes! That is the only concrete thing I knew; that I would run my own company one day and be impactful in a positive way. I didn’t have a clear picture but I also knew it was going to be through “the works of my hands” so something artistic and crafted. Business Management and Sociology was to help me effectively run the company when the time came and to give me an insight into human behaviour and how they affect my business.
Before going into soap production, you were the head of the marketing department at Bestman Games. What spurred the change in lifestyle?
I needed a change. My position as the head of marketing was a very intense and mentally stimulating one but it lacked a key component of who I am, the artistic interpretation of the work of my hands. Yes, I designed game boards but there was just something missing and I have found it in BathKandy.
Do you ever regret leaving the corporate world to start your business and did working in the corporate world help you in any way when setting up BathKandy?
Lol, there is nothing to miss because BathKandy is a corporate organization with structures and all protocols present in a larger organization. The only difference is the size of the organization. Working in larger organizations have helped me structure, execute and position BathKandy.
Name three major skills acquired from the corporate world that has helped the growth of your business
I learned the art of discipline which spans a wide range of things from coming to work early (boss or not) to abiding by the rules of the organization as an employee first, putting the needs of the company ahead of mine.
Leadership in terms of the skills needed to successfully be an effective leader and motivator of a team.
Processes have moved us from a “small” mindset to a global one. BathKandy is not a “business” anymore but an organization that is putting structures in place so that it effectively run on its own and function smoothly which have helped us achieve faster growth in such a short span of time.
Are there any soap crafters that you particularly look up to?
No particular soap crafters but companies like L’Oreal, Bath & Body Works, The Body Shop inspire me greatly.
If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
If I had the chance to start my career all again, I wouldn’t do anything differently as everything I have experience and the sequence of events have happened exactly to bring me here, where I am today and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
What is your staff strength like and how many orders do you get in a month/year and do you get orders from around the world?
Currently, we have 7 full-time employees, 4 contract staff on the payroll. To date, we have made and sold well over 60,000 bars of soaps alone this year and counting. Yes, we deliver internationally so we do get international orders and the numbers are growing steadily.
What is the price range and how many stores do you have nationwide?
The price point of our products ranges from N500 to N6,000 on individually priced products. We currently have 2 stores, one in Lagos and one in Abuja and we have an e-commerce store where we ship worldwide.
Describe your creative process and tell us about your worst experience as a crafter?
It all starts with an idea, the actual process varies as inspiration comes but there is no clear path or way as it’s usually a jumble of thoughts and potential outcomes. Sometimes, I know what the problem is and try to find a solution so I work backwards. Other times, I’m simply inspired by something I see or hear and then try to make something that appeals to customers, sometimes customers do not know what they want so you have to tell them. After playing around with ideas and base ingredients, I run it by our team of scientists and then we work on tweaking or refining the process, ingredients, interactions and then I make the final products. Then we go to testing, release to market and marketing to the end consumer. Somewhere in this whole jumble is a lot of failed experiments, “wasted money”, frustrations and discarded ideas that sometimes get picked up later on or revamped into something better.
Manufacturing skincare products for me is as much a mental thing as a physical process, so once I have an idea in my head and it doesn’t pan out the way I figured it would, it could get quite frustrating.
My worst experience would have to be in my earlier years of doing business when I lost 2 million naira. A corporate client had placed an order and based on relationship, I waived the process of payment before production, went ahead to produce this custom order, and last minute they pulled out and decided they didn’t want the custom products we had created for them. BathKandy is a different type of business and this has been our strong points from the beginning so, instead of allowing this huge loss (especially to an SME) define us, I looked at it as a necessary lesson that had to be learned the hard way. Money is not the bane of our existence, it will always come but we chalked it up to experience, cut our losses and moved on. This was a very valuable lesson we had to learn especially in separating myself as Blondie (the owner ) from Blondie (the CEO/Employee) from the business and forcing me to follow established processes regardless of the parties involved. Now when situations like this come my way, I am able to navigate better and make decisions quicker. Not every customer is my customer so, if you cannot respect our processes, then we simply cannot do business.
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years and what advice will you give people who plan to leave a 9am-5pm job for entrepreneurship?
In 5 years, I see us being a significant player and major force to be reckoned with in the global skincare and beauty space. I see BathKandy creating more jobs, positively impacting and grooming the at-risk women in our network (a part of our 1000 women CSR initiative to train and empower 1000 women in one year).
My advice would be to write down the vision, create a plan, work tirelessly towards that goal and learn perseverance and patience. They will take you a long way. Let fear be your fuel and don’t have a backup plan; have a mindset that regardless of what goes down, the only way out is success; the roadmap may change but the destination is the same. Above all else, be true to yourself and face your lane.